What is in the Ark of the Covenant

What is in the Ark of the Covenant Pic A


By: William J Jackson

The ark of the covenant is more than a significant center piece to HaShem’s Holy Sanctuary. Spiritually, as we see in Numbers 7:89, the Ark was the manifestation of God’s physical presence on earth, (1). So, what does this priceless container house? A verity of faiths have different answers for this one question. Let’s turn to the Tanakh (Old Testament) to find the right answer.

Many people might answer this question by listing three things; 1. Aaron’s staff, 2. a jar of manna and 3. the tablets with the 10 commandments. This is addressed in Hebrews 4:9 of the Christian bible . Also, these same items are connected to the ark in Torah. As we are commanded to do, let us study this out ( Joshua 1:8, Isaiah 28:9-10, Proverbs 3:1-2) .

1. Aaron’s Staff:

Adonai told Moses to gather up the staffs from each of the leader of the twelve tribes of Israel (Numbers 17:17). Aaron gives up his to represent the tribe of Levi. YHVH then tells Moses “You shall place the staffs in the Tent of Meeting before the [Ark of] the Testimony where I commune with you.” (Numbers 17:19). All bibles either say the staffs were put before or in front of the testimony or the ark. After Aaron’s staff budded as a sign to the tribal chieftains, YHVH tells Moses to put Aaron’s staff before the testimony (Numbers 17:25). Other translations either have Aaron’s staff before the Ark or the commandments but none say in the ark. So, nothing confirms that Aaron’s staff was put into the ark. It was put before the ark/tablets.

2. Jar of Manna:

In Exodus 16:33-34 Adonai tells Moses to put a jar of manna before the testimony (much like Aaron’s Staff). Moses has Aaron do this. The NLT (New Living Translation) interpretation takes liberties and states “Aaron did just as the Lord had commanded Moses. He eventually placed it in the Ark of the Covenant”. All other Christian Bibles (KJB, NIV, NASB…) do not have the jar going into the ark of the covenant. So why did the NLT add this to the Tanakh? One of the responsible parties for putting the jar in the ark might have been Judaeus Philo. Philo was a Hellenized Jew who was noted for trying to combine the Jewish and Greek cultures (2). He lived between 20 BCE and 40 CE, pretty much at the birth of the Christian religion. He did talk about a “golden” jar of manna“ in his teachings. It is also noted that there were writings by rabbis and other Jewish writers based on Ex. 25:16 (3). In truth, the Torah does not support a jar of manna being placed in the ark, regardless of the agenda of some religious men.

3. The Ten Commandments:

The Torah is very straight forward about this one. The tablets, with the Commandments, were placed into the ark, as stated in Exodus 25:16 and Deuteronomy 31:26. Actually this is confirmed in 1 Kings 8:9 where it says, “There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone which Moshe put there…”. This verse, also makes it clear this was the only thing in the ark, not the manna, not a staff. Some could say that the jar of manna and staff might have been looted by the Philistines (4). They captured the ark about 70 years before 1 Kings 8:9 ( I Samuel 6:1). But, the Philistines after being cursed ( 1 Samuel 5), were very eager to return the ark . Actually, they returned it with additional gold objects as an offering I Samuel 6:8. It hardly makes sense they would have kept it’s contents.


Teachings and commentary are not a bad thing, it’s helpful and can inspire. But, it cannot substitute our own journey in understanding HaShem’s word. We need to be willing to search out scripture and at the very least understand enough to measure those who teach us. This is one of the many reasons these articles are heavily laced with scripture. We owe it to HaShem to be willing to immerse ourselves in His word. Nobody else is responsible for our journey, except us.


(1) Ancient Jewish History: The Ark of the Covenant, Jewish Virtual Library.

(2) Marian Hillar, Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 B.C.E.—40 C.E.), Center for Philosophy and Socinian Studies

(3) What was inside the Ark of the Covenant?

(4) (August 2014) Contents of the Ark, Rational Christianity, Christian Apologetics, Answers to hard questions about Christianity and Bible difficulties.